Chris Johnson: Doug Benc/Getty Images
I may have Titans rusher Chris Johnson as the No. 9 overall player in the current SI.com rankings, but I won't be drafting him in Round 1 this year. The reason: He has amazingly (read: inexplicably) fallen to Round 2 in 100 percent of the mock drafts I've joined this summer. In other words, I can afford to wait for greatness (I'm thinking 1,800 total yards, 11 TDs).
I have Jaguars wide receiver Torry Holt as the 152nd player in the same Top 200; but believe me, I will most definitely pass on him in Round 15 -- for someone like Dolphins WR Ted Ginn, Jr. or Holt's Jacksonville teammate, rookie WR Jarrett Dillard -- simply because I'd rather possess a young player with admirable upside ... than a once-great talent with bad knees who hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game on grass since the days of Simon & Simon (or something like that).
So, allow me to present The Avoidables, a group of players whom I will ignore within their specially earmarked draft-rounds (as listed in the 12-team mock draft in the latest issue of Fanball magazine). It bears repeating: I am not condemning studs like Chris Johnson, Joseph Addai, Knowshon Moreno, Vincent Jackson or Greg Olsen -- I'm simply saying I won't be reaching for them, for various reasons. But I'm sure that little disclaimer will fall upon blind eyes, upon receiving nasty emails or bitter Tweets for this segment.
Round 1 -- RB Chris Johnson, Titans (I PROMISE to dance a jig upon landing him in Round 2)
Round 2 -- RB Joseph Addai, Colts (wave bye-bye to the golden days of 1,436 total yards/12 TDs)
Round 3 -- RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (I'd consider this time-share victim in Round 6 or lower)
Round 4 -- WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers (only elite WRs go this high ... and V-Jax isn't there yet)
Round 5 -- WR Bernard Berrian, Vikings (in the year of Sidney Rice, this is an obvious reach)
Round 6 -- RB Tim Hightower, Cardinals (he may score 8 TDs, but he'll be lucky to net 800 yards)
Round 7 -- TE Greg Olsen, Bears (way too high for tight ends who aren't red-zone specialists)
Round 8 -- WR Torry Holt, Jaguars (sing with me: old gray paint ain't what he used to be)
Round 9 -- WR Justin Gage, Titans (it's rare for 9th-year players to take a seismic step forward)
Round 10 -- QB David Garrard, Jags (I'd rather have Campbell, Russell, Rosenfels at QB2 )
Round 11 -- WR Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers (no longer a lock for 8 catches, 134 yards, 1 TD)
Round 12 -- TE Jeremy Shockey, Saints (wayyyy too much TE depth for a Shockey leap of faith)
Round 13 -- D/ST Chicago Bears (declining D + Hester's expanded role on offense = no thanks)
Round 14 -- RB Mewelde Moore, Vikings (by now, you've surely moved down to the next section)
Titans 21, Bills 18
What I Liked: Titans quarterback Kerry Collins looked extremely sharp for Aug. 9, and I'm not necessarily talking about going 7-of-10 for 82 yards. His play-fakes were crisp, and he looked quite mobile (for him, at least) around the pocket. Safe to say the man is ready for whatever competition Vince Young should provide in camp.
What I Liked, Part II: As expected, Chris Johnson didn't get a lot of reps against the Bills defense (6 carries, 17 yards). But I loved his 16-yard scamper down the left side, after the 4-hole collapsed on the handoff. Barry Sanders could not have done it better himself.
What I Liked, Part III: If the suddenly svelte LenDale White (12 rushing yards, 1 TD) can stay fighting-trim AND remain a bruising red-zone back, then I fully expect his famous No-Tequila Diet to be a fixture on grocery-store shelves everywhere next year. But then again, who's going to buy an empty bottle of Jose Cuervo?
What Made Me Yawn: Believe me, I tried, folks. But there's no gleaning insight to report from Terrell Owens' two catches for 27 yards. On the first reception, he deftly wiggled into an open seam against the Titans' zone defense. On the second one, a simple down-and-out pattern, he jogged out of bounds upon making the catch. I will give T.O. credit for something, though: At least he showed up on the stat sheet, which leads me to ...
What I Loathed: ... The invisible travails of Bills receiver Lee Evans, who finished with nary a catch or signature play. Yes, I am fully aware that Sunday was the start of a long (and meaningless) preseason campaign; but I'm also worried that Evans won't be a factor in 10-11 games this year -- while posting all-world numbers in four or five outings. And like I always say: Good luck guessing when the explosions will occur.
What I'll Remember On Fantasy Draft Day: Putting the proverbial gun to my head ... I might rather have Tennessee receiver Nate Washington over Justin Gage (by a nose, at least), and I'm confident Bills No. 2 QB Gibran Hamdan (11-of-13 for 89 yards) is a stronger fantasy option than Patriots backup Kevin O'Connell. But that only applies to fantasy owners playing in 20-team leagues -- or deeper.
You have to love the practitioners at Fantasy Football Calculator. They're already hard at work, making mathematical sense of this year's top fantasy football prospects. In fact, this site represents sublime one-stop shopping for mock drafts and the Average Draft Position tool (ADP) -- perhaps the best learning aid for NOT reaching during the August (and September) drafts. Speaking of ADP, here's a list of quarterbacks likely earmarked for Rounds 1-11 (for 12-team leagues), if a draft were held today:
Drew Brees, Saints -- Round 2, Pick 3
Tom Brady, Patriots -- Round 2, Pick 7
Peyton Manning, Colts -- Round 3, Pick 4
Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- Round 4, Pick 3
Philip Rivers, Chargers -- Round 4, Pick 9
Kurt Warner, Cardinals -- Round 5, Pick 2
Tony Romo, Cowboys -- Round 5, Pick 10
Donovan McNabb, Eagles -- Round 5, Pick 12
Matt Ryan, Falcons -- Round 7, Pick 1
Matt Schaub, Texans -- Round 7, Pick 2
Jay Cutler, Bears -- Round 7, Pick 9
Carson Palmer, Bengals -- Round 8, Pick 1
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers -- Round 9, Pick 4
Matt Cassel, Chiefs -- Round 9, Pick 9
Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks -- Round 9, Pick 11
Kyle Orton, Broncos -- Round 10, Pick 8
Eli Manning, Giants -- Round 10, Pick 11
Trent Edwards, Bills -- Round 11, Pick 2
Michael Vick, Free Agent -- Round 11, Pick 5
Jake Delhomme, Panthers -- Round 11, Pick 11
Here are some quick thoughts on the above ADP rankings:
**For the record, I believe Michael Vick has paid his (very-steep) debt to society and deserves a second chance at the NFL. But even in his heyday, Vick was never more than a 9th-round fantasy pick. So, how in the world could he possibly be an 11th-rounder -- after a two-year layoff AND without an NFL team, a starting-QB role or any positional definition, for that matter? Absolutely ridiculous. On a completely unrelated note, I would welcome having a Vick-lover in any one of my 12 fantasy leagues this fall.
**Not since 1999 have fantasy owners had the opportunity to steal Colts QB Peyton Manning in Round 3 ... but by all appearances, some lucky guy/gal will get a free shot at Peyton's 33 TDs and 4,300 passing yards around pick No. 25. In fact, if you own the No. 4 overall pick in 10-team leagues, you're staring at Matt Forte, Calvin Johnson and Peyton in the first three picks. How's that for a foundation? Ka-boom!
**I'm a little surprised that Drew Brees is universally viewed as the No. 1 QB over Brady and Manning. Sure, I have Brees ranked atop my list as well, but you'd think the aura surrounding Brady/Manning would still be enough for the top spot.
**I see the debate between Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers as a virtual toss-up ... so imagine my chagrin to see Rodgers dwarfing Rivers by six solid slots.
**Matt Schaub getting ADP run over Jay Cutler makes perfect sense: He has the better receiving corps (Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels) and the receiving-prowess gap between stud running backs Steve Slaton and Matt Forte is essentially negligible.
In the wake of the Titans' convincing exhibition victory (don't let the close score fool ya) ... this seems like a good time to remind everyone of the following: The 2008 Detroit Lions posted a spotless 4-0 record in the preseason, beating the Giants, Bengals, Browns and Bills by an average score of 20-8. And as we all know, NONE OF THAT meant jack-squat once the regular season began.
Dan and Kelly Grogan are not only award-winning fantasy writers, but they also have a knack for unearthing major fantasy nuggets, via painstaking research. In the Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Analyst -- a must-read for all fantasy owners before and after draft day -- the Grogans dropped a ton of knowledge regarding workhorse running backs ... or the lack thereof:
Looking for that running back who gets 25-30 carries per game? Keep looking. The last time we saw one, it was when Larry Johnson averaged 26 rushes per game in 2006. (Shaun Alexander averaged 25.2 carries that same year, but played only 10 games.) Before LJ, it was Eddie George in 2000 (25.2 per game) and Jamal Anderson way back in 1998 (25.6). Interestingly, only 13 backs averaged more than 17 rushes per game last year. Heavy-duty workhorse backs aren't just a dying breed; they're all but dead ...
... There were only 58 times last season in which a running back saw at least 25 carries. That might sound like a lot, but with 512 opportunities for this to occur (32 teams at 16 games each), those big-workload outings came only 11.3 percent of the time.
Translation: If there was ever a time to build your fantasy team from the outside in -- loading up on elite wide receivers in the early rounds, and then getting great value with running backs in time-shares -- that time is now!
I'm a little ambivalent on the whole Twitter thing. Yes, I'm happy to finally have an account (@SI_JayClemons) -- one that fantasy football fans can access 24/7 with questions/comments about players, teams, drafts and starting lineups. Yes, it's great to "follow" hilarious celebrities like Michael Ian Black, Kevin Pollak, Jason Segel, Steve Carell, Stewie Griffin, Bonnie Hunt and, of course, Statler and Waldorf of Muppets fame. And yes, it's sweet to already have 100 followers after just four days of service. However, Twitter is more voyeuristic than Facebook, and I cannot help but wonder if this one-sided e-fad won't outlast the Pet Rock from the 1970s.
In the meantime, I will try to pass the Twitter downtime with inane (but oh-so-comical) comments like the following:
"I did a little research on who was the first celebrity to regularly attend Lakers games: None other than Mr. Haney of Green Acres fame ..."
"I just visited an out-of-town friend's house to feed/clean up after his cats ... and one of 'em hissed when I gave him/her the wrong omelette ..."
"Thank god for IMDB ... how else would we know what Lacey Underall is up to these days -- 30 years since the filming of Caddyshack? ..."
"Billy Mays ... say it ain't so, brother? ..."
"Someone oughta tell Michael Crabtree's adviser the NFL is a big boys league ... veiled threats of sititng out the season mean bupkes!"
"The NFL Network's Missing Rings series has been great ... suggestions for next batch -- '80 Browns, '79 Rams, '82 Jets, '84 Dolphins ..."
... To announce the arrival of Sports Illustrated's fantasy football spectacular, available online and at magazine racks nationwide. This 168-page tome is chock-full of rankings, columns (two from yours truly), features, draft-day advice, in-season strategies, booms, busts and an experts' mock draft, enlisting an army of SI's award-winning fantasy and NFL writers (including Peter King). Last but not least, it boasts perhaps the coolest cover of any fantasy magazine you'll ever see!
Am I overselling it a little bit? Perhaps. But the early feedback I've gotten from my fantasy brethren suggests SI's first major foray into fantasy football will be an absolute triumph -- and that it could become an all-time best seller within the genre. (UPDATE: My well-placed moles have informed me that SI's fantasy mag is indeed the top seller to date ... sweeeeeet!)
Tony Romo: AP
In the last few weeks, I've gone to great lengths to convince myself the Cowboys' passing game (specificially Tony Romo) won't be better off without Terrell Owens -- at least from a fantasy perspective. And in every comparison -- whether it's Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Donovan McNabb -- I've been proven right. The fourth (and final) preseason installment comes in the form of Romo vs. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. At first blush, I figured Romo has the slight edge ... but there's only one true way of finding out:
Week 1 -- Palmer (vs. Denver) over Romo (@ Tampa Bay) -- virtual toss-up
Week 2 -- Romo (vs. N.Y. Giants) over Palmer (@ Green Bay)
Week 3 -- Romo (vs. Carolina) over Palmer (vs. Pittsburgh)
Week 4 -- Palmer (@ Cleveland) over Romo (@ Denver) -- virtual toss-up
Week 5 -- Romo (@ Kansas City) over Palmer (@ Baltimore)
Week 6 -- Palmer (vs. Houston) over Romo (BYE)
Week 7 -- Romo (vs. Atlanta) over Palmer (vs. Chicago)
Week 8 -- Romo (vs. Seattle) over Palmer (BYE)
Week 9 -- Palmer (vs. Baltimore) over Romo (@ Philadelphia)
Week 10 -- Romo (@ Green Bay) over Palmer (@ Pittsburgh)
Week 11 -- Romo (vs. Washington) over Palmer (@ Oakland)
Week 12 -- Palmer (vs. Cleveland) over Romo (vs. Oakland)
Week 13 -- Palmer (vs. Detroit) over Romo (@ N.Y. Giants)
Week 14 -- Palmer (@ Minnesota) over Romo (vs. San Diego)
Week 15 -- Romo (@ New Orleans) over Palmer (@ San Diego)
Week 16 -- Palmer (vs. Kansas City) over Romo (@ Washington)
Week 17 -- Romo (vs. Philadelphia) over Palmer (@ N.Y. Jets)
Verdict: Since most fantasy leagues end at Week 16, technically, this one concludes with an 8-8 draw (including two toss-ups). But when factoring in Week 17, Romo has the creature comforts of the Cowboys' new home stadium ... whereas Palmer will likely have to overcome nasty winter weather, a debilitating crosswind, top-flight cornerback Darrelle Revis, a blitzing Jets defense and -- if that weren't enough -- the final NFL regular season game at The Meadowlands. Put it all together, and it's advantage: Romo. On the flip side ... Palmer gets the call during Weeks 12, 13, 14 and 16 -- crucial periods for the fantasy playoffs. Gotta love that!
Understandably, most fantasy owners only care about receptions, yards and touchdowns when it comes to wide receivers. But I'd like to introduce a crucial stat to Clicks -- one that directly affects the three primary categories: First downs earned off receptions. In fact, here's a top-25 listing of active wideouts (with ties) who expertly moved the chains in 2008:
1. Andre Johnson, Texans -- 79 first downs
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -- 65 first downs
3. Brandon Marshall, Broncos -- 63 first downs
4. Reggie Wayne, Colts -- 61 first downs
5. Roddy White, Falcons -- 60
5a. Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers -- 60
7. Derrick Mason, Ravens -- 59
8. Steve Smith, Panthers -- 57
9. Wes Welker, Patriots -- 56
10. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals -- 55
10a. Greg Jennings, Packers -- 55
12. Hines Ward, Steelers -- 52
12a. Vincent Jackson, Chargers -- 52
12b. Calvin Johnson, Lions -- 52
15. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals (now Seahawks) -- 51
16. Santana Moss, Redskins -- 50
17. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs -- 49
18. Lee Evans, Bills -- 46
19. Randy Moss, Patriots -- 46
19a. Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers -- 46
21. Steve Breaston, Cardinals -- 44
21a. Laveranues Coles, Jets (now Bengals) -- 44
21b. Donald Driver, Packers -- 44
24. Isaac Bruce, 49ers -- 43
24a. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets -- 43
24b. DeSean Jackson, Eagles -- 43
24c. Eddie Royals, Broncos -- 43
Having the final pick of Round 1 and the first choice of Round 2 in fantasy drafts certainly has its perks: Longer bathroom breaks, more uninterrupted beer chugs, more frequent stares at the exhibition games on TV, less worries about "reaching" for players and more time to mock the other owners for taking a kicker or defense midway through the draft. But there are also some pratfalls associated with having back-to-back picks -- especially if you didn't do your homework leading up to The Big Day.
Well, hath no fear or ambivalence ... because here's a great strategy for nailing your mixed-league draft when possessing the No. 12 pick (and No. 13 on the flip side ... and so on and so forth):
Round 1, Pick 12: Motive -- Best overall player
1st option: RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles ... 2nd option: RB Frank Gore, 49ers
Round 2, Pick 13 overall: Motive -- Best RB or WR available (a tad too early for QBs)
1st option: WR Andre Johnson, Texans ... 2nd option: WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
Round 3, Pick 36 overall: Motive -- Best RB available (ONLY QBs: Brees, Manning, Brady)
1st option: RB Darren McFadden, Raiders ... 2nd option: RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills
Round 4, Pick 37 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB available
1st option: WR Brandon Marshall, Broncos ... 2nd option: WR Braylon Edwards, Browns
Round 5, Pick 60 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR available (there's still too much TE depth)
1st option: RB Willie Parker, Steelers ... 2nd option: RB Cedric Benson, Bengals
Round 6, Pick 61 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB/TE available
1st option: QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles ... 2nd option: QB Tony Romo, Cowboys
Round 7, Pick 84 overall: Motive -- Best QB/WR/RB/TE available
1st option: TE Owen Daniels, Texans ... 2nd option: WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
Round 8, Pick 85 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/TE/QB available
1st option: RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles ... 2nd option: WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets (again)
Round 9, Pick 108 overall: Motive -- Best TE/RB/WR/QB (perfect spot to grab TE1 or QB2)
1st option: TE Owen Daniels, Texans ... 2nd option: RB Darren Sproles, Chargers
Round 10, Pick 109 overall: Motive -- Best QB/RB/WR available
1st option: WR/RB Percy Harvin, Vikings ... 2nd option: RB Chester Taylor, Vikings
Round 11, Pick 132: Motive -- Best RB/WR/TE available (still not time for a kicker or D/ST)
1st option: RB Donald Brown, Colts ... 2nd option: WR Chris Henry, Bengals
Round 12, Pick 133: Motive -- Best WR/TE/RB/QB available
1st option: WR Sidney Rice, Vikings ... 2nd option: WR Earl Bennett, Bears
Round 13, Pick 156: Motive -- Best QB/RB/WR/TE available
1st option: QB Jason Campbell, Redskins ... 2nd option: WR Nate Washington, Titans
Round 14, Pick 157: Motive -- Best TE/RB/WR available (you have permission to draft a kicker)
1st option: WR Nate Washington, Titans ... 2nd option: PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Round 15, Pick 180: Motive -- Best kicker or defense
1st option: PK Rob Bironas, Titans ... 2nd option: D/ST San Diego Chargers
Round 16, Pick 181: Motive -- Best defense or kicker
1st option: D/ST San Diego Chargers ... 2nd option: D/ST Minnesota Vikings
Personal feelings aside regarding the fantasy viability of Jeremy Shockey (looooong injury history) and Tony Scheffler (Josh McDaniels' poor track record with tight ends in New England), here's something to consider: CBSSports.com's projections for every tight end who'll tally 40 catches. Noticeably absent here are three neglected veterans with solid upside (Todd Heap, Vernon Davis, Anthony Fasano) and three rookies ready to take the pros by storm (Brandon Pettigrew, Shawn Nelson, Chase Coffman):
Jason Witten, Cowboys -- 85 catches
Dallas Clark, Colts -- 81 catches
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons -- 81 catches
Chris Cooley, Redskins -- 75 catches
Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers -- 71
Antonio Gates, Chargers -- 69
Greg Olsen, Bears -- 67
Dustin Keller, Jets -- 64
Owen Daniels, Texans -- 58
John Carlson, Seahawks -- 52
Kevin Boss, Giants -- 52
Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings -- 51
Zach Miller, Raiders -- 51
Bo Scaife, Titans -- 45
Brent Celek, Eagles -- 43
Tony Scheffler, Broncos -- 42
Jeremy Shockey, Saints -- 42
Heath Miller, Steelers -- 40
It's absolutely essential to pair a QB/WR or QB/TE from the same NFL team in Points Per Reception leagues. In the biz, it's known as "handcuffing," and it's the surest, quickest way to doubling your points in high-scoring leagues. To wit, the revised top 20 QB-TE handcuffs for '09:
1. Tony Romo/Jason Witten, Cowboys
2. Peyton Manning/Dallas Clark, Colts
3. Philip Rivers/Antonio Gates, Chargers
4. Matt Ryan/Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
5. Matt Schaub/Owen Daniels, Texans
6. Matt Hasselbeck/John Carlson, Seahawks
7. JaMarcus Russell/Zach Miller, Raiders
8. Jay Cutler/Greg Olsen, Bears
9. Eli Manning/Kevin Boss, Giants
10. Donovan McNabb/Brent Celek, Eagles
11. Luke McCown/Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers
12. Sage Rosenfels/Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
13. Shaun Hill/Vernon Davis, 49ers
14. Joe Flacco/Todd Heap or L.J. Smith, Ravens
15. Ben Roethlisberger/Heath Miller, Steelers
16. Drew Brees/Jeremy Shockey, Saints
17. Carson Palmer/Ben Utecht or Chase Coffman, Bengals
18. Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford/Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
19. Kellen Clemens or Mark Sanchez/Dustin Keller, Jets
20. Kyle Orton/Tony Scheffler, Broncos
These teams should have a minimum of 12 weather-friendly games, which is the first step to predicting fantasy goodness (especially with quarterbacks):
St. Louis (the lone exception is Dec. 6 @ Chicago)
Tampa Bay (Dec. 20 @ Seattle serves as the only hindrance)
Arizona (only Nov. 8 @ Chicago could be a problem)
Houston (how blustery can Buffalo actually be on Nov. 1?)
New Orleans (maybe there'll be crummy weather @ Carolina on Jan. 3)
Detroit (this may be a factor in giving Matthew Stafford a spot start at season's end)
On the flip side ... these clubs should encounter treacherous weather for at least five games, which often serves as the great equalizer with star QBs (see Tom Brady, Week 15 of 2007 vs. N.Y. Jets):
Buffalo (I hope T.O. can catch balls amidst freezing temps, snow and perilous crosswinds)
Cleveland (In bad weather, does it really matter who's QB -- Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson?)
Sports Illustrated and SI.com should always be your primary source for voluminous information leading up to fantasy drafts ... but if you're in the mood to participate in a LIVE mock draft on the Web -- while learning NOT to reach for Sammy Morris before Round 9 -- here are the best destinations for real-time mocking:
**Mock Draft Central
**ESPN Mock Draft Lobby
**Fantasy Football Calculator